Baker & McKenzie announced Wednesday that it will make Casablanca the site of its 71st office, and its third in Africa, becoming the latest global firm to launch what it expects to be "a beautiful friendship" between itself and the Moroccan metropolis.
"We can now offer clients market-leading Africa expertise both in global financial centers and locally on the ground in key African regions," says Koen Vanhaerents, chairman of the firm's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) practice. Baker already has offices in Cairo and Johannesburg.
In heading to Casablanca, Baker is following a path blazed by Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, and Norton Rose, which all launched in Casablanca last summer. Baker has chosen Kamal Nasrollah, formerly a corporate partner with Paris-based August & Debouzy, to head up its own branch in the city. Nasrollah, who left Sullivan & Cromwell for August & Debouzy nine years ago, most recently split his time between Paris and the Casablanca office he opened for August & Debouzy in 2007.
U.K. publication Legal Week reports that Nasrollah joins Baker with a team of four associates, two of whom will be based in Paris. The team focuses on corporate deals and disputes in Morocco, as well as cross-border work with countries in North and West Africa and the Middle East, according to Baker's announcement. Last year, Nasrollah led a team from August & Debouzy advising Moroccan pharmaceutical company Saham Pharma in connection with its acquisition of a manufacturing plant from GlaxoSmithKline's Moroccan subsidiary.
Eduardo Leite, chairman of Baker's executive committee, said in a statement that the new office will help the firm serve clients working on a continent that has become increasingly popular with investors. "We are deeply committed to Africa and to clients who do business on this fast-rising continent. Africa now accounts for almost a quarter of the world's foreign direct investment," he said.
Baker first began doing business in Africa in 1985, when it opened in Cairo under the name Helmy, Hamza & Partners. In May, the firm entered South Africa by acquiring Dewey & LeBoeuf's 31-lawyer Johannesburg office just as that firm was filing for bankruptcy. The Casablanca location is the fourth office Baker has established in the past 18 months to bolster its EMEA presence, with the Johannesburg launch following the opening of offices in Istanbul and Doha.
In the past, the firm has advised clients on transactions in Africa involving such industries as energy, natural resources, health care and telecommunications. Cairo-based private equity firm Citadel Capital, for one, has turned to Baker in the past on finance work, including a $70 million fundraising last year for Citadel platform company Africa Railways Ltd.
The 3,800-lawyer Baker ranked first in The American Lawyer's Am Law 100 most recent rankings with gross revenues of $2.27 billion in 2011. The firm had profits per partner of $1.2 million last year.
In addition to the three firms that launched in Casablanca last year, London-based CMS Cameron McKenna and Spanish firms Cuatrecasas and Garrigues are among the other European firms with offices in Morocco, according to our prior reporting. U.K. firms Eversheds and Bird & Bird, meanwhile, have exclusive alliances with firms in the market.